Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Lapulapu - fish or hero!

The fish lapulapu, as it is known in Luzon, is called pugapo in Cebu. In the olden times, however, it was known as kugtong when it matured into a size big enough to swallow a man. So how did it become the namesake of our hero? Thereby hangs a tale.

When the Spanish expedition commanded by the Portuguese Magellan came to Sugbo (now Cebu; from Sugbo to Cebu will be another story), he befriended Chieftain Humabon. Across the channel from Sugbo was Maktang ruled by Lapulapu. And Lapulapu had the gumption to resist the ambition of Magellan to establish Spanish dominion over the islands.

We know the story of the Battle of Mactan. Lapulapu and his men routed the Spanish conquistadores and killed Magellan in the process. Arnisadors would claim that Lapulapu used arnis. Not true, but that's another story. Most probably, Magellan stepped on a mossy stone, slipped and got whacked on the neck.

But our tale is about Lapulapu being a fish or hero. This is the story.

While Magellan was lying dead on the shore of Maktang, Lapulapu saw Pigafetta waving wildly aboard one of the expedition's ships. He was cursing Lapulapu for killing his boss Magellan. This Pigafetta was a friar but he was as abusive as the soldiers towards the local womenfolk.

Lapulapu was furious. He shouted to Pigafetta. "Ikaw nagpakaaron-ingnon nga alagad ni Bathala. Apan wala kay kalainan sa inyong mga sundalo. Pareho ka sa isdang kugtong, gisubad nimo bisan ang among mga kababayen-an. Sukad karon dinhi sa akong gingharian ang kugtong tawgon na nga Pigafetta." [You pretend to be a servant of God. But you are no different from your soldiers. You are like the fish "kugtong" devouring even our women. Henceforth the "kugtong" shall be known in this kingdom as Pigafetta.]

As time passed, because pigafetta was hard for the Cebuano tongue it evolved into pugapo.

On the other hand, when Pigafetta wrote down his annals of the expedition he did not even mention the name of the chieftain who killed his boss. Instead he narrated: "In the kingdom of Humabon they prepare a tasty kinilaw from a fish. This fish is called lapulapu."

When the Spaniards moved their settlement to Luzon, they conveniently forgot the name of the killer of Magellan. But they found the same fish as a favorite part of the menu of the locals. They remembered Pigafetta calling it lapulapu. So lapulapu it was thenceforward among the Tagalogs.

Like any tale that involves a fish, take it with a grain of salt.